John North

Two Poems

Milk and Honey

The calf smells like good strong cheddar cheese,
like my baby son does sometimes –
he is one year old
and not quite on a tractor yet.

I am feeding the calf two litres of milk
from a bucket by hand,
and it is pulling on the two fingers
I have in its mouth
hard enough it is like to rip them clean off.

I am of half a mind to stop
as it should be able to feed itself by now,
but this lal bull insists I feed him;
he can’t work it out for himself,

and my brother-in-law (he’s the calf man)
wants it fed.
And God wants it fed.
And it wants fed…
It breaks your back, feeding calves.

I remember, as my wife slept upstairs
and I bottle-fed my son to give her some rest,
the strangeness of feeling
that there is nothing else in the world;
the baby’s life balanced on my knees,
the lightness of love and the heaviness
of sudden fatherhood.

The sheer strength of the old men used to intimidate me,
but now I am an old man myself,
amazed at the sheer effort of life.
The struggle, the push
and the wrestling-with-god of hungry mouths.


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